Phishing Defined: Understanding This Cyber Threat and How to Avoid It

Estimated read time 11 min read
Estimated read time 11 min read

Ever clicked on a harmless-looking email, only to find yourself in a web of potential danger? Welcome to the world of phishing. It’s not about catching your dinner; it’s a cyber crime. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of this cyber threat.

“Phishing is a serious cybersecurity threat that isn’t going anywhere. Understand it, so you can recognize it.”

So, what exactly is phishing? And more importantly, how can you protect yourself from it? Stick around, because we’re about to break down all those burning questions.

Picture this: You’re enjoying your morning coffee, scrolling through your emails, and BAM! An email from your bank pops up. It looks legit, but something feels off. Congratulations, you’ve just encountered a phishing attempt! 

A Comprehensive Breakdown of Phishing Attacks

Attack TypeDefinition
Email PhishingThe attacker sends fraudulent emails appearing to be from reputable sources to induce individuals to reveal personal information.
WhalingA type of phishing attack that specifically targets high-profile individuals like CEOs or CFOs.
Spear PhishingA targeted form of phishing where the attacker knows specific details about the victim to make the attack seem more legitimate.
SmishingA type of phishing attack that occurs through SMS text messages. The attacker sends a fraudulent message to trick the recipient into sharing sensitive information or installing malware on their phone.
Clone PhishingA type of phishing attack where a legitimate, previously delivered email is cloned and used to trick the recipient into providing personal information.
PharmingCybercriminals redirect a legitimate website’s traffic to a fake site to snatch up user information, effectively phishing without needing to bait the hook.
Table showing various types of phishing attack types | Download this table (Image)

What is Phishing and How Does it Work?

Phishing is a form of cybercrime where scammers impersonate legitimate organizations to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or social security numbers. It’s a deceptive digital fishing expedition, except the fish they are after is you. 

  • The bait: Phishers send out emails, texts, or create websites that look like they belong to real institutions.
  • The hook: These messages or sites will often ask you to log in, update your account, or share personal information.
  • The catch: Once you bite, they record your input and gain access to your accounts or identity.

91% of all cyber attacks begin with a phishing email to an unexpected victim
– Deloitte

The Different Types of Phishing Attacks You Need to Know

Cybercrime is a vast world, and among its sinister arsenal is a sneaky tool known as “phishing.” Not to be mistaken for the peaceful pastime involving a rod and reel, phishing has a far more malicious intent. It’s like angling, but instead of fish, these fraudsters are aiming to reel in your sensitive information. Phishing attacks are responsible for 95% of all successful cyber-espionage attacks.

Let’s dive deeper into the various types of phishing attacks you should be on the lookout for.

Spear Phishing 

Unlike general phishing attempts, spear phishing is targeted. Cybercriminals customize their traps with details about you, making their ruse seem legitimate. It’s a personalized attack, and that makes it dangerously convincing. 

Whale Phishing 

No, this doesn’t involve cybercriminals going after Moby Dick. Whale phishing, or “whaling”, targets the big fish – the high-ranking executives and VIPs within a company. Their aim? To net valuable company information. 

Clone Phishing 

Imagine receiving a duplicate of a legitimate message you’ve previously received, but with a malicious twist. That’s clone phishing. Cybercriminals clone an existing email, replace the attachment or link with a malicious version, and send it from an email address spoofed to appear as coming from the original sender. 


Did you know phishing can happen over the phone too? Vishing (Voice Phishing) is where fraudsters call you and impersonate someone you trust to trick you into sharing sensitive information. It’s a reminder that not all phishing attacks come through email. 


In this type of attack, cybercriminals redirect a legitimate website’s traffic to a fake site to snatch up user information. It’s phishing without needing to bait the hook.

The Role of Technology in Combating Phishing

Phishing, a cybercrime where targets are contacted by email, telephone, or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution, is a growing concern worldwide. These fraudsters lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords. 76% of businesses reported being a victim of a phishing attack in the last year.

Let’s delve into how technology, specifically EDR, network sensors, email filters, accurately configured mail servers, and email clients can play a pivotal role in thwarting these malicious attempts. 

  • Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR): EDR is a cybersecurity technology that addresses the need for continuous monitoring and response to advanced threats. It can identify suspicious activities, thereby providing an extra layer of security against phishing attacks. In case of a threat, EDR automatically collects and records data from endpoints, providing cybersecurity teams with detailed threat information.
  • Network Sensors: Network sensors monitor and analyze network traffic. They can detect unusual activity or patterns that may indicate a phishing attempt. By identifying these threats in real time, network sensors enable immediate response to potential phishing attacks.
  • Email Filters: These act as the first line of defense against phishing attacks. By scanning inbound emails and filtering out those that seem suspicious, they significantly reduce the number of potential phishing attempts that reach your inbox.
  • Correctly Configured Mail Servers: A correctly configured mail server can identify and block emails from known phishing domains. By rejecting these emails, they prevent them from ever reaching the user’s inbox.
  • Email Clients: Modern email clients come equipped with built-in security features. These can warn users when an incoming email seems suspicious or is from an unrecognized sender, helping to guard against phishing attempts.

Adopting these technologies can greatly aid in mitigating the risk posed by phishing attacks. However, it’s important to remember that technology alone can’t eliminate all threats. Phishing attacks have a 30% open rate.

How to Identify Phishing Emails and Protect Yourself

Detailed report showing detected Microsoft phishing page
Detailed report showing detected Microsoft phishing page

When it comes to emails, not everything that lands in your inbox is as it seems. Phishing emails are sneaky cyber-attacks designed to trick you into sharing personal information. But fear not! With a few key strategies, you can spot the fakes and protect yourself. 

Recognizing the Lure 

Phishing emails often disguise themselves as trustworthy sources. They might mimic your bank, an online store, or a social media site you frequent. The goal? To lure you into clicking a malicious link or downloading an infected file. 

Inspect Links and Email Addresses 

Hover over any links without clicking. The real URL will appear and if it looks suspicious, don’t click. Also, check the sender’s email address. Legitimate businesses will typically use their own domain. 

Spelling and Grammar Mistakes 

Phishing emails are often riddled with grammatical blunders and spelling mishaps. If you stumble upon an email from what seems to be a reputable organization, yet it’s peppered with errors, be alert—it’s probably a crafty phishing ploy. However, with the advent of AI and LLM usage, this telltale sign might diminish as fraudsters refine their tactics.

Unsolicited Requests for Personal Information 

One big red flag? Unsolicited requests for personal data. No genuine organization will ask you to share sensitive information via email. 

Too Good to Be True 

A classic phishing tactic is the “too good to be true” hook. If an email promises an amazing deal or a prize for little to no effort, it’s probably a scam. 

How to Protect Yourself 

Staying safe from phishing attacks is all about vigilance and good internet habits. Here are some top tips for keeping your inbox (and your data) safe: 

  • Update your software regularly.
  • Install antivirus software and keep it up-to-date.
  • Never share personal information via email.
  • Regularly check your online accounts and bank statements.
  • Use strong, unique passwords for each of your online accounts.

Change your default DNS

When it comes to online security, every layer counts. One of these layers comes in the form of DNS services, specifically those offered by professionals like Cloudflare and Google. By choosing to use these services, you’re equipping your online activities with an additional layer of protection against phishing attacks. 

Cloudflare DNS offers an array of features intended to shore up your web security. Its primary function is to convert domain names into IP addresses, but that’s just the start. It also offers built-in security measures that work tirelessly to recognize and defend against phishing attacks.

Simply changing your DNS settings to Cloudflare DNS IPs ( and can drastically improve your protection against such attacks. 

Google Public DNS, on the other hand, helps you browse the internet with more speed and security. Just like Cloudflare, it offers anti-phishing features that aim to reduce the risk of falling victim to cyber attacks. Google Public DNS IP addresses are and

Phishing scams might be tricky, but with these tips, you’re well-equipped to dodge the bait and keep your personal information secure.

What to Do If You Fall for a Phishing Scam?

Oh snap! You clicked that suspicious link and now you’re in panic mode, wondering what to do next? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Phishing scams might be nasty, but there are ways to control the damage.  

Step One: The first thing to do is change your passwords. Yes, all of them! Especially the ones related to any financial accounts or email. Try using a password manager to create strong, unique passwords.  

Step Two: Reach out to your bank and credit card companies. Let them know what’s happened so they can monitor your accounts for any fraudulent activities.  

Step Three: Invest in a good antivirus software and run a complete scan of your system. This will help detect and remove any malware that may have been installed.  

Step Four: Report the phishing scam. You can report it to your email provider, the company the scam pretended to be from, and the Federal Trade Commission at  

Step Five: Keep an eye on your credit reports. If the scammer has your personal information, they might try to open new accounts in your name. By regularly checking your credit reports, you can spot any unusual activity.  

Remember, being a victim of a phishing scam can feel terrifying, but with the right steps, you can minimize the damage and protect yourself in the future. After all, knowing what to do is half the battle! 

To finalize

As we wrap things up, let’s reinforce our understanding of phishing. It’s a sly cyber methodology, designed to trick you into giving away your sensitive information. It’s a digital trap, set by cybercriminals, with the aim of stealing your identity, draining your bank accounts, or hijacking your online life.

Key Takeaways 

  • Phishing is a cybersecurity menace that uses fake emails, texts, or websites to fool you into handing over your personal information.
  • It’s a digital con game, where the fraudsters play the roles of trusted entities.
  • The information targeted typically includes usernames, passwords, credit card details, and other sensitive data.

So, how can you spot a phishing attempt? Look for the telltale signs. These could be urgent language, vague greetings, misspelled URLs, or requests for personal information. If it seems fishy, it probably is! 

Protection Strategies 

  1. Install reliable security software and keep it updated to protect against the latest threats.
  2. Be wary of unsolicited communications asking for sensitive details. When in doubt, contact the company directly.
  3. Don’t click on suspicious links. Hover over them to check if the URL matches the company’s official website.

Phishing is a serious threat, but by staying vigilant and informed, you can keep your digital life secure. So, keep your eyes peeled and your data locked down!